The truth is that parents of children with technology access at home will ensure that their children have this information advantage.
Who will ensure that the children of poverty are given an equal opportunity?
Sure-- this is a Linux commercial, but forget that. Rather look at the real message. The message of information and how this generation of digital learners are being given an advantage over those who do not have access. As I watched this commercial I was taken with the fact that children of parents with digital access have a distinct advantage over children with parents without access.
I have been thinking about the digital divide more than usual, partly because I have been asked to keynote at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth conference called Building Futures Through Education. I am humbled to say the least. After the keynote, I will give a breakout Q&A session in which I have decided to include my take on bridging the digital divide from a social empowerment perspective.
Bottom line - here is my take on the digital divide. As teachers we have to realize that we are preparing students for jobs that haven't even been invented yet. I challenge you to name a trade or profession (besides education) that your students will enter that doesn't take technical skills. Affluent kids will get those skills outside of your classroom. Their parents will make sure they are able to do what they need to do to get ahead.
But the at-risk kids will only get those skills within the safety net of our classrooms. If we do not embed the digital literacy skills into our instruction, then where else will they gain the competencies to be successful and competitive in the 21st Century? I have teachers who say to me– I can’t use technology as the medium through which I deliver my curriculum because most of my students do not have access at home. I say to those teachers – from where I stand you have a responsibility to make sure these kids become digitally literate or you are just adding to the problem.
I would go so far as to say that that to not give these students the opportunities to use Web 2.0 technologies while they learn only deepens the digital divide and puts them at yet another disadvantage when competing for jobs in the future. It is one more way to keep the have nots... the have nots.
Technology in and of itself, however, will not bring about change. Tools alone do not create educational reform; teachers and policy makers create educational reform. It takes teacher leaders operating as "agents of change," advocating what is in the best interest of their students.
To be sure, technology access is an important issue. Wiring schools, giving students laptops, setting up community technology centers and processing used computers all are important actions. But the real reason to help schools make principled changes in the way we educate students is to reach beyond these issues of access and cut to the heart of social divides themselves. By using web 2.0 tools– the pencil and paper of the 21st Century– our most neediest population can collaborate globally and be competitive in today’s flat world and global marketplace.
In my opinion, we are the last generation of teachers who have the prerogative of deciding whether or not to master technology. Many of us chose not to acquire proficient skills and still have experienced a high level of success in our professions. However, the children we teach today are not going to be afforded that choice. Students MUST become digitally literate in order to be successful in the 21st century. As educators, I believe we do our students a disservice if we do not provide for them the opportunity to master these skills in our classrooms.